June 2021

Lending Standards and Borrowing Premia in Unsecured Credit Markets

Kyle Dempsey and Felicia Ionescu


Using administrative data from Y-14M and Equifax, we find evidence for large spreads in excess of those implied by default risk in the U.S. unsecured credit market. These borrowing premia vary widely by borrower risk and imply a nearly flat relationship between loan prices and repayment probabilities, at odds with existing theories. To close this gap, we incorporate supply frictions – a tractably specified form of lending standards – into a model of unsecured credit with aggregate shocks. Our model matches the empirical incidence of both risk and borrowing premia. Both the level and incidence of borrowing premia shape individual and aggregate outcomes. Our baseline model with empirically consistent borrowing premia features 45% less total credit balances and 30% more default than a model with no such premia. In terms of dynamics, we estimate that lending standards were unchanged for low risk borrowers but tightened for high risk borrowers at the outset of Covid-19. Borrowing premia imply a smaller increase in credit usage in response to a negative shock, which this tightening reduced further. Since spreads on loans of all risk levels are countercyclical, all consumers use less unsecured credit for insurance over the cycle, leading to 60% higher relative consumption volatility than in a model with no borrowing premia.

Keywords: Bankruptcy, borrowing premia, consumer credit, business cycles.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2021.039

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: June 24, 2021